Like other Peninsula cities, Menlo Park is now developing a grade separation strategy for its major east-west vehicle corridors. Council members do not like the two alternatives the city has studied. One would lower Ravenswood and keep the tracks roughly at current grade (neither Oak Grove nor Glenwood would have grade separations). This likely would produce long-term traffic circulation problems on El Camino, Oak Grove, Glenwood and possibly Ravenswood.
The other requires Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood be lowered and tracks raised on an unattractive berm that is 10 feet high between Oak Grove and Ravenswood. This solid barrier would further physically divide Menlo Park neighborhoods. Plus, the concurrent construction of three new grade separations would severely disrupt east-west and El Camino traffic for at least three years. The council feels pressured to select one of these alternatives soon, thinking delays might jeopardize future government support if other cities were to apply for funding before Menlo Park.
So what should our council do? First, take a deep breath. Our situation is not so bad. There is plenty of time to evaluate additional solutions, and the potential reward is one that becomes a source of civic pride rather than disdain.
Next, view the grade separation challenge as a wonderful opportunity to transform the area bounded by El Camino, Alma, Ravenswood and Oak Grove into a community-enriching commercial district, one that energizes our downtown. This central area is already changing rapidly. The BBC at 555 Santa Cruz Ave. was renovated in 2015. A three-story office building will be completed at 1020-1026 Alma in 2018, and Station 1300 will open in 2019. Also, a builder has proposed replacing existing buildings at 1125 Merrill St., and 506 and 556 Santa Cruz Ave, with a multi-use development.
These private investments should be complemented by a civic project that integrates them with a central pedestrian and bike-friendly public space that seamlessly connects both sides of the tracks. This project could include a large plaza, attractive landscaping, and the existing train station. A fully elevated and open rail structure between Oak Grove and Ravenswood would make this possible. And perhaps, the existing Caltrain parking could be relocated underground to create even more public space. (Note: More details are available at the Re-Imagine Menlo Park website at tinyurl.com/MPGradeSep17.)
I encourage the Menlo Park City Council to evaluate the FEORS alternative. It is technically feasible; construction will be much less disruptive and possibly less costly than lowering three streets, and the city has sufficient time to select the best possible solution.
In the meantime, Menlo Park can monitor Palo Alto's pursuit of an extremely costly underground rail solution and consider this popular alternative if Palo Alto is successful.
Menlo Park resident Dana Hendrickson is an active community volunteer, founder of the disabled veteran support nonprofit Rebuild Hope, and editor of Re-Imagine Menlo Park.
This story contains 673 words.
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